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I grew up in the country, regularly viewing the night sky, learning the constellations, watching lunar eclipses and experiencing a potentially once-in-a-lifetime viewing of Halley’s Comet. It never dawned on me that not everyone saw a clear view of the night sky. My perspective changed when I met a city kid at summer camp who was amazed at the number of stars. He went on and on about how many and how bright the stars appeared. Although the term “light pollution” wasn’t widely used back then, my friend’s view of the sky directly resulted from the phenomenon.
Light pollution is becoming an increasingly widespread problem worldwide, including here in the Natural State. Even in rural parts of Arkansas, the sky you see tonight might not be the same sky you experienced as a child. The Arkansas Natural Sky Association, our state affiliate of the International Dark-Sky Association, is working to combat light pollution and preserve our night skies for generations.
Light Pollution is artificial light at night that has an adverse effect when viewing the night sky. This includes everything from outdoor home and building lighting, traffic lights, street lights, ball fields and advertising displays.
If you have been driving some distance from a city at night and noticed a glow off in the distance, you have experienced sky glow, one of the problems associated with light pollution. Studies show that nearly 80% of the world’s population experiences reduced night sky visibility because of sky glow. Light pollution certainly affects our view of stars, but the problems associated with light pollution are more profound and affect not only humans but animals and birds as well.
Animals are also experiencing problems due to artificial light. Light pollution has also been linked to disruption in animal migration patterns, disturbing wetland habits and disrupting predator/prey relationships.
Light pollution wastes money and our natural resources, placing demands on our pockets and our environment.
The Arkansas Natural Sky Association is a statewide group working to inform the public about light pollution and educate them about the wonders of the sky through various resources and programs.
“A natural dark night sky is nature’s grandest spectacle. When we witness it with wonder, we are doing something uniquely human, something our ancestors have done from the beginning of humankind. Doing so brings a perspective that is moving and refreshing to the human spirit.”
The Arkansas Natural Sky Association website is a vast resource of materials. Sections worth taking a look at include:
In 2019, the International Dark-Sky Association declared Buffalo National River an International Dark Sky Park. The park serves as a teaching example to the public and has adapted the park and the park’s policies for visitors to be more dark sky friendly.
Visitors will notice that bathrooms have been equipped with motion-sensing lights that automatically turn off when not needed. Outdoor lighting has been dimmed and converted to amber lighting, which has fewer adverse effects than LED lighting. In all, changes were made to over 345 light fixtures throughout the park.
During summer and fall, guests can learn more about the night sky by participating in ranger-led night sky programs.
The second annual Nature at Night Festival will be held Sept. 14-16, 2023, at Bear Creek, just south of Buffalo River National Park.
This three-day festival will be a celebration of all things celestial. During the day, participants can learn about the sky, responsible lighting, celestial art, night photography and more. Participate in constellation tours, telescopic star parties, and celestial scavenger hunts each night.
Of all forms of pollution, light pollution is one of the easiest to reverse with just a few simple changes. You can make these changes in your home and encourage friends, family and neighbors to do the same.
Several Arkansas libraries have sky-quality meters that can be checked out. These devices will gauge light pollution in your area. You can report this number through the Globe at Night citizen science program to help scientists learn more about light pollution and prepare a plan to help combat it.
Has your view of the night sky been affected by light pollution? Leave us a comment to tell us your story, or visit us on Facebook to join the conversation.
All photos courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
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